Metal Gear Surviv(ing the Controversy)
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has it rough. With the “departure” of famous and beloved Hideo Kojima, the franchise finds itself in the hands of the infamous and reviled Konami. As a result, Metal Gear Survive could compete with The Emoji Movie for most loathed, shameless cash grab. At least, people want to believe that. The truth is a bit more complicated. While Konami’s recent history and current business practices have justifiably earned the ire of longtime fans, Metal Gear Survive shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly. While different from what gamers may be used to, the beta offered insight on what to expect. Before getting drunk on the hatorade Konami so generously provided, let’s take the time to properly analyze the game.
After creating a character, the player finds themselves dumped in a formless white void. Terminals litter the floor and a giant screen looms overhead. Interacting with the screen allows the player their first real test: the tutorials. Now, ordinarily a few texts on how the game works help. Survive has over eighty boxes worth of tutorials. Eighty. Each screen has one or two sentences explaining a simple function before moving to the next explanation of the same function.
For example, the first tutorial explains that the stick moves the character. The very next tutorial explains how clicking the stick makes the character run. Instead of simply having both explanations inside the same box, the developers felt the need to have every little change separated. An example further along includes “Movement Actions”. One screen merely has the sentence “there are various types of movement actions”. Nothing more. The player needs to read through over eighty of these micro-tutorials to understand the controls.
The controls continue to feel clunky even after a thorough read-through, but the player can manage with practice. The issue lies with needing to adjust in the first place. As a result of over eighty pages worth of micro-information, remembering it all seems impossible. Simply condensing similar subjects into one page would greatly reduce the overload. Minus one, Konami.
The bulk of the beta consists of a tower defense style game mode. A timer runs down until a dig site activates, then the player must defend the drill from waves of enemies. In between each wave, the player must collect materials to build defenses and craft ammo. That’s basically it. Collect. Craft. Defend. Collect. Craft. Defend. A solo run may seem interesting for a few rounds, but it quickly wears out. For some people, the thrill comes from the challenge of surviving tougher waves. Survive does well in delivering that aspect.
The enemies get tougher and the player needs to quickly adapt their fortifications to the new enemies. Those moments when a horde of crystal-headed zombies come rushing past a gate right when you run out of ammo truly feel tense. Unfortunately, that tension loses allure after the fourth, fifth, sixth time alone.
Playing with others offers a much more meaningful, if slightly less challenging, experience. A group of moderately decent players can easily decimate hordes of enemies. Having turrets, walkers, trenches, spiked fences, and other goodies will do that. Yet watching teammates fall one by one during the higher level of waves can really get the blood pumping. Still, while friends can make the experience better, the rinse and repeat nature of the game doesn’t create a strong enough appeal. It all really depends on how much a player likes these types of modes, and how long they can stand it. For some people, this is all they need to have a good time. Others need more.
Fines and Online
With the current era of gaming, it should come to no surprise that Metal Gear Survive has microtransactions. A little less unsurprising, but still highly irritating, is the “always online” approach. Konami announced that the game will require a constant internet connection to facilitate “seamless integration between single player and co-op”. Consequently what if you don’t like playing online? What if you only want to play the single player? Too bad. This does not bode well for what to expect from the main campaign.
With microtransactions and online play having such focus, what does that mean for single-player? Is content locked behind those transactions? Is the game mostly just “defend ‘a’ from enemies with friends, then move to ‘b’”? The Division and Destiny come to mind with this model. If co-op is enabled for the entirety of the campaign, will the story have any substance? Furthermore, Survive is confirmed to take place in an alternate universe from the beloved franchise. The plot, characters, and setting don’t need polishing. They just need to look attractive on the surface.
The Fine Line
In conclusion, the beta showed that Metal Gear Survive functions as a survival tower defense game with “Metal Gear” attached to the front. Without Kojima’s brand of crazy, and with Konami intentionally pushing it away from the main series, can a person really call this game “Metal Gear”? No, not yet. At the same time, judging it solely by the disparity ignores the few genuine good parts. Take away the brand name and it all comes down to personal preference. Come March, all will see how Metal Gear Survive fares against the odds.